A Dec. 3 online news site headline warned “ … the UN is coming for your internet.” A number of concerns emerged from the December meeting of The World Conference on International Telecommunication in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Some 2,000 delegates representing about 160 countries met to review and revise the global treaty on international telecommunications regulation.
The “usual suspects”—Russia, China and their allies—want to restrict the free flow of information by taking control of the Internet away from the United States and by proposing measures to regulate content and access. The New York Times reported that today, 40 governments censor the Internet, which is an increase from only four in 2002. Last June, then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made it clear that Russia and its allies planned to propose that international control of the Internet become the responsibility of the International Telecommunications Union, a UN agency. Some of these so-called allies would like to ban anonymity from the Web to make it easier to identify dissidents.
These threats to freedom of expression are bolstered when the press fails to live up to its responsibility to provide accurate information from multiple sources and based on ethical practices.
The collapse in 2011 of Britain’s News of the World, founded in 1843, happened because journalists were accused of phone hacking British military personnel killed in action and deleting voicemail from a missing British teenager who was later found murdered. News of the World staff had been colluding with law enforcement to get information to feed the newspaper’s insatiable appetite for scandal.
The BBC has now come under fire for shelving an investigation of its flagship news show, “Newsnight,” over sexual abuse allegations by a now-deceased presenter that risked embarrassing the institution of the BBC.
American media are also ethically challenged.
The New York Post published a cover photo on Dec. 5, of Ki Suk Han hanging onto a 49th Street station subway platform in New York City. A Post freelance photographer took the photo as the train barreled toward the terrified man, killing him instantly.
We remember the scandals of Jayson Blair of the New York Times and Stephen Glass of the New Republic whose story was dramatized in the movie “Shattered Glass.” These brilliant writers succumbed to temptation to make up their stories, invent quotes, and Glass even created a fake website to support his manufactured sources.
Democracy thrives best when ideas are allowed to flow unfettered. Calls to put press regulation into the hands of government bureaucrats threaten our democracies. At the same time, the failure of the market’s gatekeepers to uphold basic ethical standards erode the public’s confidence in the press and fuel the fires set by freedom’s detractors.